No, You Shouldn’t Be Flying Because You “Have the Antibodies”

Vaccination is your best shot at traveling internationally in 2021

flying with antibodies
Raden Prasetya/Unsplash

This past July, I was at an outdoor bar in New York, waiting my turn to get a specialty cocktail. I don’t remember what it was called. It had a lot of sugar and a lot of alcohol. I do remember a group of 20-somethings in front of me, arguing with the bartender. They were denied service because they weren’t wearing masks. Don’t worry, they said to a man serving drinks in the middle of a pandemic, we “have the antibodies.”

Brad Tolkin, the CEO of World Travel Holdings, a travel company that sells cruise, villa and resort vacations, recently told The Washington Post that travel bookings are already picking up for 2021. He’s predicting a “thunderous” comeback for the industry. Cabin fever is a powerful thing, and after almost an entire year of staying put, people are now making plans. Summer 2021 is already seeing double-digit percentage gains in overall occupancy. Unsurprisingly, Americans seem most interested in international trips.

Simultaneously, though, there is concern that the sort of attitude I encountered last summer — careless, imagined invincibility — could run rampant during the recovery period. Black Tomato, a luxury travel company, recorded 300% more sales in the past week, just as the United States and the United Kingdom began vaccinating its citizens. The arrival of the vaccine has given some a false sense of security, enough that they may be eager to jet-set across the world the second they’re allowed — even though full rollout of the vaccine, and the Holy Grail, herd immunity, could take much of next year.

Health experts are trying to make it clear that even in a recovering world, nonessential travel should be off-limits for for those who haven’t been vaccinated. It should even be avoided by those who had coronavirus. John Brooks, the chief medical officer for the CDC’s coronavirus response, recently said: “If someone has recovered from [COVID], they are still encouraged to follow all of the COVID-19 travel recommendations.” Though reinfection rates are low, antibodies are too much of an unknown at this point.

It’s easier to take precautions first and your trip later, after you’ve been vaccinated, than assume battling COVID a few months ago means you’re good to go. Besides, this could become a logistical concern for boarding a flight. Certain airlines are planning on issuing “immunity passports” in 2021, essentially certificates of vaccination, which will be required for travelers to board international flights. An argument with a flight attendant might make a memorable scene, but it won’t get you onto the plane.


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